The CIF says it will count the Drillers’ football championship they were awarded way back in 1916 at a CIF Federated Council meeting, but we at Cal-Hi Sports will not in our record book because that title was not won on the field.
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As the Bakersfield High football team was getting ready to play in the 2013 CIF Division I state bowl game last December, a question arose from the media about some at the school who were claiming one more CIF state title than was being listed by the CIF and reported on by Cal-Hi Sports.
We couldn’t check it out at the time, but since then there have been numerous email exchanges plus a visit just last month to the files of legendary sports researcher Bruce McIntosh.The disputed total, believe it or not, dates back to the 1916 season when the only CIF state finals at the time were held in rugby and not traditional American football.
In those days, schools won semifinal CIF playoff games and then tried to set up an agreement to play for what would be called a CIF state championship. The first actual CIF state football final played on the field didn’t come until 1919 when Long Beach Poly defeated Berkeley 21-14.
Bakersfield and San Diego were the two schools involved in that 1916 season. The Drillers were 6-0 and had defeated Porterville 61-13 for the valley championship. The Hilltoppers were 12-0 and had beaten Manual Arts of Los Angeles 9-0.
There may have been an informal agreement for the two teams to have played, but San Diego head coach Clarence “Nibs” Price decided a 13th game was too much so the Hilltoppers backed out of it.
Bakersfield fans and principal A.J. Ludden were not happy. According to one newspaper report, Ludden got into his car “in a dander” and headed off to a CIF Federated Council meeting where he made an appeal that the Drillers should be declared the state champions. His argument was successful.
CIF sports information officer Rebecca Brutlag was approached recently with the details of the 1916 season and responded that the CIF’s stance is that anything that appears in the CIF Federated Council’s official minutes would be accepted.
“As you can see from the attached doc, basically Bakersfield was awarded the championship by default of San Diego,” Brutlag said. “So we would put an asterisk by that championship noting that Bakersfield was awarded the championship, but did not play a contest.”
Therefore, according to the CIF’s new official totals, Bakersfield actually won its eighth state football title with its 56-26 win last December over Del Oro of Loomis instead of its seventh title as was reported at the time.
However, since the Drillers didn’t win that 1916 title on the field and instead were handed it via a vote it’s not going into the state record book maintained by us. Essentially, the CIF will now have Bakersfield with eight state football titles sporting an asterisk attached while we will have it still with seven titles and also with an asterisk.
Why San Diego was better in 1916
If the name Nibs Price is familiar to any football historians out there, the San Diego football coach for that season is indeed the same Nibs Price who was a head football and men’s basketball coach at the University of California for 35 years.
Price went to World War I shortly after 1916 and returned to coach the freshman football team at Cal in 1920. He also was an assistant coach for Cal’s 1920 national championship team – dubbed the Wonder Team – which beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl 28-0 and outscored its foes by a hard-to-believe 510-14.
And don’t think that Price was San Diego High’s only connection to Cal’s 1920 Wonder Team. Several of the players also were on the Hilltoppers’ 1916 squad, including Harold “Brick” Muller, voted later on as the greatest player in college football for the first quarter of the 20th century; College Football Hall of Fame lineman Stan Barnes; and Pesky Sprott, a running back and another Cal Hall of Famer.
In that Rose Bowl win over previously unbeaten Ohio State, Muller led the Golden Bears at quarterback while Sprott scored twice and rushed for 90 yards on 20 carries.With quarterback Karl Deeds, Muller, Sprott and Barnes leading the way, San Diego High’s 12-0 record in 1916 showed a 420-33 scoring margin. Price’s boys beat Long Beach Poly that season 62-0 and had eight shutouts. Among other wins were 10-7 over the USC Frosh and 84-6 against Orange.
While Bakersfield had a solid team in 1916, including a win over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, we’re pretty certain that San Diego would have won easily had the two teams played. In fact, Bakersfield’s legendary 1927 team that only allowed 19 points and beat Fullerton 38-0 in the last CIF state final played until the current CIF bowl games began in 2006 is probably the only one of those early CIF state title teams that could even approach how strong San Diego was for 1916.
Ken Hooper & Don King & Rick Smith
It’s safe to say we wouldn’t have gotten to re-visit the Bakersfield-San Diego debate for 1916 without the efforts of Bakersfield teacher and archivist Ken Hooper. He is the one who has produced and sent numerous articles from 1916 newspapers to back up his contention about his school receiving credit for that CIF football title.
“I agree with everything about the interesting state of affairs and arrangements in 1916,” Hooper wrote to us in one of his emails. “For the purpose of counting state records (like this one), the only true voice that matters is the CIF. I have more articles to send, but it is clear that the CIF made Kern County Union High School in Bakersfield the 1916 state champions. My trick is having the skills to get it on the internet for folks to enjoy.”
In one dispatch, Hooper provided comments by legendary Bakersfield head coach Dwight “Goldie” Griffith about that 1916 season from a book that was written by Glendon Rogers in the 1950s.
“We met all opponents and beat them by wide margins,” Griffith wrote. “Then we were ready to go for the state honors. San Diego in the south openly declared themselves as the state champions. So our school official challenged San Diego and claimed they had no right to declare the honor until they had met and defeated Bakersfield. The reply to our challenge read, ‘Team Disbanded: Bakersfield unknown in the South: We have the Championship.’ Our Principal immediately jumped in his car….contacted the President of the [C.I.F.] Federation and asked him to call a league meeting at once to settle the question of San Diego’s refusal to play. Meeting was held and San Diego was taken off her pedestal and her High Hat and Bakersfield was awarded its first state honors.”
San Diego High has historians on its side as well. Rick Smith, the former public relations executive with the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams, spends some of his retirement time working on Partleton Sports, a website focusing on San Diego sports history, especially all-time football scores. We contacted him about the 1916 debate and he in turn collected some feedback from Don King, who has written the definitive history of San Diego High athletics.
“When SDHS beat Manual Arts 9-0 for the SoCal championship, Pesky Sprott made only a token appearance due to injuries.,” King said. “That was probably a major factor in coach Nibs Price claiming fatigue as the reason for not playing a state title game. We’ll never know at this late date.
“It seems strange to us in the 21st century that state championships were not scheduled events in 1916, but often came down to ‘challenges’ from one school to another. These challenges were often made by team student-managers who had inflated responsibilities in those early years. The challenges were often accompanied by insults regarding cowardice, masculinity, and hints of birth illegitimacy. I don’t think anyone around San Diego would object to a Bakersfield claim of another state title, since all directly involved are quite deceased.”
“I’m not arguing about the number of Drillers’ championships,” Smith said. “Seems to me the Drillers were ‘mythical’ state champions. This still begs the question. Did San Diego High forfeit? I don’t think so. You can’t forfeit unless you agree to play the game, then bail. Were they told they had to play the game or had they agreed? I don’t think so, at least from the info in San Diego papers.”
To this day, we still get complaints from supporters of some schools that certain other schools “don’t want to play us.” It’s kind of funny to know that those types of comments aren’t new. They were being mentioned in almost the same manner 98 years ago. It’s just that today they can go up instantly on twitter or message boards.
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports
I love this stuff! Thanks guys for bringing back the peppery history of HS sports in our State!
Great article about early California high school football.
I remember my father talking about Brick Muller and the Cal “Wonder Team”. He(my dad) was a student at Berkeley H.S. back then.
Anyway, I thought in those early years C.I.F. consisted only of what is now the Southern Section, or at least only SoCal high schools. Perhaps you might know where I could find more info. about the early years of organized high school sports in California?
Thanks again for the article.
My uncle would look up all of this information at the state library in Sacramento, which has microfilm copies of many newspapers in the state (at least one from every county) going back to the 1890s and sometimes earlier.
Great article. It’s fascinating that nothing changes.
Cal Poly in 1916 was a vocational high school. Originally started in 1901 by the governor to help SLO kids who were not highly educated a vocation. They primarily played other high schools and occasionally played college frosh teams as some of the kids were 19. In 1916 Cal Poly was 1-2 ….. not exactly a great win for Bako.